The Major League Baseball season began last week, and for the next seven months teams will compete to become this year’s World Series champion. I’ve always been a big fan of baseball (okay, I’ll be honest, I put the “fanatical” in fan when it comes to baseball), and I think, like all sports, it can teach us a lot about life. In particular, the spiritual life. How so, you ask?
1) It’s a daily grind. One of baseball’s unique attributes compared to other major sports is the length and intensity of the season. With few days off, you play nearly every day throughout the summer and into the fall, taking it, as the cliché goes, “one day at a time.” Likewise, the spiritual life is a daily grind. St. Theresa of Avila said the most important virtue of the spiritual life is perseverance, as one must work every day to grow deeper in communion with God.
2) There’s a rhythm. Long-time baseball watchers recognize and appreciate the rhythm of baseball, both in the season and in each game. A year in baseball consists of spring training, Opening Day, the All-Star break, the dog days of August, the pennant races of September, the playoffs, the off-season, and then back to spring training. In each game, you have the first innings pitched by the starting pitchers, relief pitchers coming in, and finally the closer to finish the game. The spiritual life has a rhythm as well, both yearly and daily. The liturgical calendar guides our year – Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, and back to Advent. And each day’ rhythm consists of a quiet place, recognition of the presence of God, spiritual reading, meditation, and petitions.
3) It’s both an individual and a team activity. A baseball team has nine members, and all nine members must contribute for a team to be successful. However, the essence of baseball boils down to two individuals – the pitcher and the hitter – facing each other. In the spiritual life, we are part of a team – the Church – which helps us in our relationship with God and guides us closer to Him. However, the essence of the spiritual life boils down to you and God interacting with one another on an intimate basis.
4) Failure is part of the process. It is said that baseball is a game of failure. After all, even the most successful hitters get out over 60% of the time. But good baseball players don’t let that bother them; they simply continue to work on their game and try to improve. In the spiritual life, failure is also common – you will often have days, weeks, and even months of dry and distracted prayer. You will encounter many obstacles to growing closer to God. Yet to be successful in the spiritual life, you need to persevere and not become discouraged.
5) Short bursts of excitement are interspersed with long periods of seemingly boring activity. I know a lot of people think baseball is boring. In a nine inning game, there are often only a handful of times when anything “happens,” i.e., a run scores, a great play is made, etc. However, with every pitch something vital is happening, even though only baseball nerds like myself might appreciate it. The spiritual life is similar: you might have certain short periods of excitement – such as a retreat or a powerful experience of God’s presence – surrounded by what appears to be a lot of “nothing.” But those long periods are actually quite important and a lot is going on in them. It is then – not the “exciting” times – when God is really working in your soul and conforming you to His image.
Of course, you don’t have to be a baseball fan in order to have a strong spiritual life (but it doesn’t hurt!). However, just as Jesus used many things from daily life to reveal spiritual realities, so too can the game of baseball help us to understand – and live better – the spiritual life. As we continue to work on our spiritual lives, we can look to the game of baseball as a model to help us grow closer to Christ.